Shovel It Forward

Remember this?nopaththrusnow

And this?


And this?


I do, too, because I couldn’t get across THIS: Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 12.17.13 AM

That’s Cambridge Common, the 16-acre park I cross to get to my classes and to Lippman House, where our Nieman activities take place.

On an average day, some 10,000 people cross the park on foot or bicycle. 

But the park pathways don’t get plowed until all the priority plowing – and shoveling – is done.  In a winter like 2015, that meant crossing the park felt something like this:

Record setting deep snows block a doorway in North Cambridge.

What if there were a way – to help each other?  When the city has its hands full? 


That got me thinking:  what if we could all come together and lend a hand?  (you can see my first “Scratch” lesson if you click)

Instead of “paying it forward” … what if we “Shoveled it Forward?

Do you really want to keep trudging over this unplowed path? Of course you don’t!

Imagine Cambridge Common planted with three bright shovels. (Scratch #2, my art is priceless.)  

As you walk the path, your only task as a pedestrian is to shovel two steps ahead of you.  So you will have at least two shovel-wide paces that won’t be as narrow as those dodgy, one-step-at-a-time paths.

Then park the shovel for the next person, who will (we hope) shovel two paces ahead themselves.

Kind of like Boston’s Adopt-a-Hydrant program, only for pathways that don’t always get shoveled.


See how happy this hydrant is at being shoveled out?

It would probably be easy enough to tweak the Adopt-a-Hydrant app – in some form, with some very simple map or geo-coded details – for a few public pathways just for trial.  (If anyone is into this – I can volunteer to leave some snow shovels behind for next year!)

The social media aspect  – take a picture of yourself and your shoveling citizenship, and upload it? Get a badge? – could be done in Tumblr or Instagram.  

You could hastag it “CommonWealth-y”

Or, as I originally imagined, #Shovelitforward.  

Then I discovered there already IS a program like this – in friendly and polite Canada.   

They’ve already built this better than I could have pictured or built.  (Journalism lesson #1 – always check to see who else might have already written about your story!)  

Could we use their model – maybe even co-brand it?  We ARE neighbors, after all.  


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Dosage Preferences

Bianca Datta and I worked on the current debate over ‘cognitive enhancers.’ This topic offered a wide range of possible actions for those interested because the debate is both so broad and becoming more visible.

To navigate the space of options, we decided to think about how we could explore our capacities as humans with limited time and resources.

We decided to create an interactive bar chart that allowed a person to signal their general level of interest in pursuing any one type of contribution to the issue. This would (or is supposed to) in turn reshuffle the display of options available to be more in line with the reader’s interest and capacity.

The act of exploring the options not only means a little more thought into how one can ‘help’ but also serves as a survey tool for media outlets.

In the ideal situation, this would be a fully responsive page where information did actually shuffle according to specified preferences but as it stands, it currently lacks that last capability. It is easy enough, however, to gut the information and put in new information so it could possibly serve as a tool in future after some extra work and polish.

With regards to the type of options we left available for the reader, Bianca and I felt that three broad actions governed most abilities to contribute for any given reader. A reader could either spread the information to raise awareness and attention, participate in discussions which could lead to greater action, or donate to an organization that would act in their interests.

Here are some screenshots:

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 3.14.16 AM

(Drag and release to increase or decrease dosage of action)

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 3.14.27 AM

(Read about actionables from what was selected as most important to least important – in progress functionality)


Check is out at: (slide bars for fun, then click ‘okay’ to see information)


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An Online Social Platform for Engaging with Boycotts

Here’s the link to the site. You can click around to explore the different petitions and even create an account, but so far you can’t actually submit any forms or like or sign anything.


WeCott is a (prototype) website built by myself and three friends during the iCorruption hackathon a few weeks ago. We envisioned a platform of communities where people could participate in boycotts together – offering advice on alternatives, uploading photos of their boycott, and otherwise supporting each other. Not only would this make the process more fun and supportive, it also allows people and companies to see the effects of the boycott all in one place. You can see some more of our thoughts and designs in our presentation pitch.

These last two weeks, myself, Giovana, Alicia, and Wahyu have been brainstorming how to use this platform to talk about issues that we cared about. The first thing that we realized was that while boycotts could be very powerful as a general tool, it’s not often clear exactly what to boycott given a particular issue. Sometimes problems are so systemic (such as Ferguson) or involve things that we are unable to give up (such as our government). These types of problems may involve some more creative thinking about what could be done as an individual. Other problems fit well into the boycott mold. However, we acknowledged that often boycotts hurt people lower down the power ladder such as workers instead of the business leaders we want to target. At the end of the day, that is a tradeoff that we must make as individuals when voting with our money. Sometimes, whether we know it or not, we can be perpetuating or contributing to entities and problems that we do not support, just when we go to the grocery store!

Giovana and Wahyu both contributed a petition to WeCott – here and here. They can speak more about the specific issues they investigated and the thought processes they went through to create the petition.


I can talk a bit about the design of WeCott and also what else I envisioned but didn’t get to prototype. As you can see, there is a dollar amount that is associated with each petition that is supposed to collect all the money that people have pledged that they will divert. A bit about this – I felt that having a dollar amount would be a really powerful signal to companies. And while we can’t guarantee that people will stick to that, we have thought about ways to help people that pledge, such as sending notification emails, and to encourage people to be accountable, such as uploading photos or maybe checking in on a map to then gain points or badges. I can see other features such as news updates, goal setting, discussion boards, and local or map integrations that could help keep momentum going and provide local support. A lot of the initial design inspiration for WeCott came from both and Kickstarter. One member of the original team will be presenting WeCott again at the bigger iCorruption conference some time next week.


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More plants, less meat

For this assignment I wanted to try something really simple. The “do something” component of a lot of stories about the harm caused by the meat industry is fairly straightforward — asking people to eat less or no meat. This is of course a more tractable problem in theory than, say, how an average reader would go about “doing something” about Boko Haram. But just because people can theoretically modify their diets doesn’t make such changes all that likely.

My premise was what motivates one person to change their diet is different than someone else, so showing pictures of overcrowded hen houses to someone who is mostly concerned about reducing their saturated fat intake might make the “you can make changes that have real impact” message sound preachy. So I hid each (brief — could use development) reason for changing diet under a sub head. I can’t really tell how well it works as a concept so feedback is appreciated.

In retrospect I think this piece could have benefitted from more focus on the “how” of changing your diet as opposed to the “why,” and perhaps with more “further reading.”

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From Reading to Social Online Forum

For this assignment, I was thinking more on how a natural scheme could emerge from reading a newspaper article. For example, the recent news article on South Africa xenophobic killing incident would surely generate lots of discussion. However, how can we leverage on the urge that readers would naturally respond to provocative news contents? Therefore, I aim to focus on a mechanism and a tool that could help generate such responses.

A potential theory for readers to gain traction with regard to a particular story is decentralized discussion versus viral phenomenon. While viral propagation is goes virtually with fewer deep discussions around the topic, meaningful discussions are nevertheless key to initiating grassroots movements. Therefore, my scheme would involve decentralized movement where people would start their own social media campaign trying to involve their immediately connected community members to discuss. If the contacted members find the issues interesting, they may likewise pass on the conversation. The aim of this social campaign is not mainly to optimize total number of people involved, rather, it tries to optimize total of actively engaged online users who may transform into further engagements revolving a possible resolution of the issue.

The following link shows a crude outline of what may possibly be a solution. First, a quick walkthrough of the website:

0. One needs to login to Twitter (or other social media accounts) and verify with app credentials

1. One first chooses a news article of interest

2. She should search relevant terms on Twitter for key phrases of discussion

3. She then starts a timed social campaign where she initiates the discussion through retweeting a popular yet provocative tweet or posting one of her own trying to contextualize through some hashtags. Within the timeframe allotted, she should generate certain volume of discussion with the amount of audience that meets the minimum level of public attention (say for example, 10 followers with average of 500 followers for each user -> 5000 potential viewership on the topic).

Steps 0-3 can be iterated for different individuals. At the end, we can aggregate similar discussions into larger discussions, naturally leading to virality. This is essentially a bottom-up approach to decentralized civic journalism. The website tries to reflect the above line of thought.

* site only tested on Chrome with 2650×1600 sizing (unfortunately not dynamic layout), so viewing experience may be affected.

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You Are Not Alone: Sexual Assault at MIT

In response to this New York Times article which is in turn in response to this climate survey by MIT, I’ve made an infographic on how one might go about speaking up and reporting their own experiences– the first step to tackling a deeply traumatizing and complicated issue. One of the most terrible aspects of being sexually harassed is the feeling of both being utterly alone and having to retell one’s story over and over again. Facts and figures from this survey proves that one is, unfortunately, rarely alone and that there are resources to report anonymously to– hopefully fueling greater cultural and civic change to our treatment of these problems.


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French Patriot Act


A few days ago, France adopted a new set of law called “Loi sur le Renseignement (“Information Gathering Act”). Despite being a very controversial law that grant extensive power to the Prime Minister and his office to run any mass and personal surveillance they want, it was not really publicly debated and little is known to the public on what they could have done to express their opinion and what they could do know to protect their privacy.

I decided to list a few resources that could have been useful to be advertised by medias before the vote and actions that people can take now that the law is in place. If there was tools to automatically surface those actions from articles and put them in front of the user, raising the action threshold may be possible. (sorry, most of the content is in French…)

It started with a first law allowing censorship on the web without the accord of a judge. Many so-call Islamic websites have been blocked and some people may have seen in France this image explaining that the website they were trying to view was blocked.


Action: read more on websites blocked and read testimonies of people running those websites who explain that they were not promoting terrorism at all.

Following this wave of censorship, many organizations in defense of civil liberties tried to raise the alarms.

Action: watch video explaining the content of the new bill and its potential pitfalls.


When the bill seemed to get traction, a campaign of information tried to raise awareness and engage people into submitting their opinion to their local representatives.

Action: go on the website Sous Surveillance to read about the full project of law, get local representative phone number of Twitter username.


When a project is introduced at the French parliament, they is a way for people to share their opinion and give feedback on a the bill.

Action: read the impact analysis of the bill and share feedback to deputies. For lazy people, a tweet to a members of the government could have been a first step.


On the day of the vote, Monday April 13th, a public manifestation has been organized by many civil liberties organizations.

Action: take part in the manifestation.


After the bill was still voted into law, knowing the content and what people can do to protect themselves is the only thing left to do.

Action: watch the French Interior Minister announce that privacy is not a civil liberty, read about the vote done by only 30 deputies out of 577 or the IMSI catchers in front of Parliament during the manifestation, learn about VPN and SSL to protect privacy.


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Landmines kill and injure daily

What are landmines?

Antipersonnel landmines are explosive devices designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a person. Landmines can remain dangerous many years after a conflict has ended. They indiscriminately kill or injure civilians, aid workers, peacekeepers and soldiers alike. They pose a threat to the safety of civilians during conflicts and long afterwards. Landmines still daily kill or injure thousands of people every year in some 60 countries around the world.

What is the Ottawa Treaty?

A global movement to prohibit the use of landmines led to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (or simply the Mine Ban Treaty or Ottawa Treaty). Currently, a total of 162 nations are party to the Ottawa treaty.

Which nations have not signed the Ottawa Treaty?

To date, there are 162 states parties to the treaty. One state has signed but not ratified (The Marshall Islands) while 34 UN states including the United States, Russia and China are non-signatories, making a total of 35 United Nations states not party.

What remains to be done?

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) calls on states to destroy their stockpiles of antipersonnel landmines, and report on progress of stockpile destruction, in addition to reporting on planned and actual use of retained mines. Mines need to be cleared and victims need assistance. The ICBL supports individuals who want to hold a landmines conference, lobby decision-makers or organize a public event on landmines.

Sources: New Internationalist, ICBL

Disclaimer: My goal with this assignment on advocacy journalism was to figure out how to demonstrate and visualize the ongoing fatal issues with landmines and to let individuals know what they could do about it. The source I relied on for my animated gif claims that every 20 minutes someone gets killed or injured by a landmine, which is equal to about 500 a week. After creating the animated gif based on these numbers, I found other sources specifying lower numbers. In advocacy journalism, it seems important to avoid becoming the PR department of an NGO, especially if you think what they do is relevant. After finding conflicting numbers, I would—in real life—go back and change the animated gif and use the lower numbers from a seemingly more reliable source. It would still be shocking enough.

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Readers, Take Action (By Melissa Clark & Gideon Gil)

Buy Local Save Global is the companion piece that Gideon Gil and Melissa Clark created in the hopes of offering readers potential actions to take after being subjected to a specific piece of information media.

In this case, the previous information comes in the form of a video that reports on the recent water shortages in California, conveying the struggle amongst farmers and residents in the state.  Our research and display of information was designed to be as unbiased and as educative as possible.  To accomplish this, we decided to implement a poll (to engage the reader) and then to supply them with easily accessible information (in case they wanted to do something about what they just saw and read).  We strongly believe that the combination of the poll, followed by immediate action steps, will help alleviate readers’ feelings of helplessness concerning a seemingly distant problem.

Below is the link to your site, enjoy!

Buy Local Save Global

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